Arts Vs. Crafts
Often times we hear the terms arts and crafts used synonymously and/or interchangeably with one another. The blurred lines between these two developmental categories can leave parents confused, focusing too much on one while forgetting to provide opportunities to progress in the other. However, arts and crafts are not the same and, when it comes to childhood development, there is a distinct difference between the two. This difference needs to be articulated and defined so that the skills each offer can be practiced, honed, and mastered.
For children, art lends to the development of creativity, free expression, and originality. Art is about having a lack of limitation on what the child is “supposed” to do. This isn’t to say there are no rules. If you want the child to use paint on paper then having them use markers on the wall is obviously unacceptable. For kids, boundaries can still exist such as which mediums you put out or which tools you want the child to utilize. There is, however, no expectation for the final product. The child’s art should not be replicable. Even when using the same tools and mediums, another child’s art should and will never look exactly the same.
In this day and age, where perfection seems to be the goal and comparisons between children lies one click of the fingertips away, art has lost its importance. Adults are too quick to assist, either giving their children verbal direction or physically guiding their hands to create the desired outcome they are personally hoping to achieve. Parents have become so concerned with the final product that it can rob children of their creative expression. From simple comments such as “don’t combine all those colours or you will just have a brown mess” to actually changing the final products to something we deem pleasing, we have taken away the freedom of expression that art is supposed to foster. The inability to let go has made our children worry that their actions are incorrect and their creations aren’t good enough. Worse, though, we run the risk of stifling any originality that exists within our children.
For children, crafts are meant to develop specific skills and increase an individuals' ability to follow instructions. Crafts are supposed to have structure. With crafts, there is an intentionality to the process and a step-by-step guide that results in a specific product. The focus in crafting isn’t on creativity in the final product but rather on the development and mastery of skills. Crafts are meant to have a final outcome that, when practiced, will become easier and more uniform with time.
In the teaching world, crafts sometimes get overlooked because there is no individuality in the end result. Therefore, there is no objective way to “mark” the final product. Crafts were once overused as a way to keep students busy instead of fostering specific skill development (i.e., scissor use, gluing, drawing, moulding, etc.). As such, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that some schools even ban printable materials, worksheets, or crafts in general. But, crafts are a great mechanism to drive focus on one skill, build attention, and master the art of following step-by-step instructions. Crafts don’t produce final products with a flourish or a unique style, but that isn’t the intent. Instead, they are meant to enhance skill development in a specific area.
With all of this in mind and similar to many other realms of life, the best approach is to provide opportunities for both arts and crafts. We need to give children the opportunity to do art that is unassisted and unaltered by adults while also utilizing crafts to apply specific techniques and master skills. Of course, there are times when arts and crafts can be combined, but usually, there are specific components relating to each (e.g., moulding a clay pot is a craft while painting a clay pot is an art). For children, understanding that there is a need for both and ensuring that there is intent between each art and craft activity is what is ultimately important. The freedom in art will allow them to focus through crafts and the skill development in crafts will provide enhanced abilities in art.